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Social Neuroscience and Pharmacology

Research group
Pågående forskning
Project owner
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology

Short description

Our studies investigate how genes related to hormones and neurotransmitters are associated with behaviors and risk of psychiatric disorders. They focus on the genetics and neurobiology of autism, combining human genetics studies with experimental studies in animals. The group has shown associations between oxytocin genes and social behaviors relevant for individuals with autism e.g. emotion recognition, social memory, pair-bonding behavior and aggression. In experimental studies using mice and zebrafish, they have revealed that oxytocin is relevant for behaviors seen in autism subjects. In our on-going research, we further develop methodologies for pharmacological and behavioral studies esp. high-throughput-drug-screens in transgenic and mutant zebrafish.


Worldwide, autism severely affects 1 percent of the population and substantially increases the risk of other psychiatric conditions. While no pharmacological treatment is available yet, promise has emerged from studies showing that intranasal oxytocin promotes attention to social cues, and alleviates symptoms in autistic patients. Though human genetic studies have generated a long list of risk-genes and enabled development of animal models with strong construct validity, mouse models with highly promising pre-clinical findings have not translated into efficacious treatments. As autistic individuals clearly have deficiencies in processing social information from visual cues, like eyes and faces, we urge that it is necessary to complement the rodent studies, which almost exclusively rely on olfactory chemo-signalling, with investigations in the experimental model zebrafish which process social information using their visual system. 

Oxytocin receptor function in brain areas processing visual information is highly relevant for social interactions and for pathophysiology of autism. In our recent studies, we found that adult zebrafish, treated with oxytocin receptor antagonist or lacking oxytocin receptors, display less attention to conspecifics and are an optimal system for uncovering many unresolved issues regarding oxytocin actions in autism’s vision-based social deficits. Thus, we aim to reveal neural mechanisms by which oxytocin facilitates social interactions, specifically in response to visual social stimuli, by studying the relationship between oxytocin and social deficits in adult zebrafish.


Lars Westberg, professor, group leader

Pierre Cronell, PhD student

Soaleha Shams, postdoctor

Susanne Henningsson, postdoctoral researcher

Geoffrey Aliti, research assistant

Lindsay Zentveld Einarsson, biomedical scientist